Understanding surreal Photography

Understanding Surreal Photography And Top Surreal Photographers To Follow

Surreal photography has always been more about what you ‘compose’ rather than what you ‘click’. This is one of the reasons why surreal portraiture has always been one of the favorite styles for many creative and artistically inclined photographers. On looking at the picture for the first time, you will certainly get a visual jerk because of the combination of two totally unrelated things. However, look at a surreal portrait deeply and you will get to know the real concept behind it which is not only beautiful but quite striking as well.

So what is surreal photography?

As a newbie, it could be difficult for you to distinguish between surreal photography and concept photography as they both appear the same. However, surrealism is quite different as compared to concept photography. Surrealism is more about adding certain imaginary elements to the real physical world. It diminishes the fine line between what is possible and impossible and mixes them into a very beautiful composition. When you go beyond the ‘real’, you make a ‘surreal’ composition. It is a way to mix the impossible into the usual everyday possible activities.

Surrealist portraits are always about creativity. You are free to portray even the wildest of associations and thoughts in this kind of portraits as they give you ample freedom to carry out your plans. Headless portraits that replace human heads with inanimate objects like umbrellas etc. are quite popular with some modern surrealists. The use of color is more vivid. You don’t necessarily have to ‘please the eye’ but showcase something that is unusual and different than the rest. Photos that combine two entirely different perspectives and merge them into one are also getting popular these days. So, the next time you see a deep sea-diver making his way through the New York Skyline, you should not be surprised.

Surreal &,Conceptual Portrait

Photo by:brlmk

Considering the ‘out of the box’ approach of this kind of photography, you certainly need to make sure that you get to learn the basics. Here are some of the pre-requisites of surreal portraiture.

  • A brilliant concept – You can click just one picture or even create an entire project based on this idea. Just make sure that you have a fair idea of what you wish to achieve. More clarity of the idea will always result in better pictures.
  • A great camera – You can use a Canon 5D Mark II camera with a 24-70mm lens with f2.8. This is the ideal portrait camera and lens combo and you will be able to capture a wide variety of portraits with the help of this kit. Any camera and lens kit with an equivalent performance will also work.
  • Photo editing software – You will also need a professional photo editing software. Make sure that you get to become an expert in that software before you opt for surreal portraits. Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard, so buying this software will always be a great idea. With surreal photography, you will be bringing the extra zest into the picture with the help of this software only. So being an expert helps.

Apart from this, you will need speed lights, tungsten lights and other lights and props depending on your picture concept.

The best Surrealists to follow

Man Ray

Man Ray Portrait

Photo by:aconsagrada

Man Ray is one of the most well-known surreal photographers of the 1900s who was known mostly for his peculiar perspectives that worked well, even without the existence of a full-fledged Adobe Photoshop tool kit. He was born in Philadelphia and was a painter as well. You would see some of the purest and the most fundamental forms of surrealism in the works of Man Ray. He has been associated mainly with Dada and Surrealism and is one of the best known artists of the 1920s and 1930s. Following his perspectives could serve as a great guide to your surrealist experiments.

Giusepe Mastromatteo


He is one of the most renowned names in the world of advertising. Born in Italy, he is currently working in New York and has served as the creative director for New York based Euro RSCG as well. He has worked on several great projects, the latest being ‘Indepensense’. The project is based on recreating the human figure through hands and eyes, mostly with the use of digital photo manipulation tools. The dimensions are illusionary and the basic concept is to play with human anatomy and bring a completely illusory dimension to the canvas. His works can prove to be a good guide for people who want simplistic yet very hard hitting compositions with as small number of photo elements as possible.

Martin Stranka


Hailing from the Czech Republic, he is one of the best surrealist photographers of our times. His perspective looks vintage on some occasions but it is quite striking at the same time. He mostly shows muted colors and blends nature with human figures. His human figures are not distorted. Instead, they look at peace with nature and appear as a part of a larger creation i.e. nature. This young photographer has been awarded for his new perspectives and larger than life creations. The most dominant theme of his work is ‘dreaming and awakening’.

Erik Johansson


Chances are high that you have already seen one of the photographic masterpieces of Erik Johansson online. He is one of the most popular surrealists on the internet and is mostly known for creating surrealist pictures sans Photoshop. His ability to bend reality without photo manipulation is par excellence. His works are centered on creative natural pictures and he has had a TED Talk to his credit as well. Currently living and working in Berlin, he shoots photos in parts and then combines them all together to get a brand new surrealist picture. He never uses CGI or any other manipulation techniques. Simply stitching his photos together, he has been creating some wonderful works of art.

When it comes to surrealism, there is a lot that we can talk about. However, for now, we advise you to take a look at the pictures from the photographers mentioned above and hone your talents so that we can discuss the techniques in later posts.

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